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by Walter Kirn
The popular business media have for some time now been missing the big story when it comes to the country’s second richest man. Buffett’s fortune … has become the least interesting thing about him. It’s Buffett the symbol that matters now, Buffett the folk hero …
There is a line of self-made, iconoclastic, pragmatic, larger-than-life American Everymen that begins in the popular mind with Benjamin Franklin, and runs through Mark Twain, Will Rogers, and Harry Truman, but also shows up in such far-flung characters as Walt Whitman, Henry Ford, and Ernest Hemingway. They are the fresh-air paragons of democratic self-invention—the anti-phonies who tell it like it is and, with their grassroots words and ways, rebuke the pretentious sophistication of Europeanized elites …
Warren Buffett, as much as anyone else alive right now, belongs to this indispensable tradition …
Biographers and magazine writers love to detail Buffett’s austerity—his middle-class house, his bare-bones corporate headquarters, his decision to stay put in Omaha—but they make a mistake when they accuse him of modesty. In a man worth tens of billions of dollars, self-deprecation is a boast.
Vol. 294, No. 4, pp. 104–112
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